1956 Continental MK II Coachbuilt Convertible
The Continental Life continues with the most aristocratic of all open tourers…the classic 1956 Continental MK II. It is presented here in its rarest form. Only six were specially built by Collins Trim and Auto. Hess & Eisenhardt also made at least two. The question still remains as to how many MK II convertibles were made. According to Daniel Schmitt & Co who sold this car, well over $100,000 was spent on this exquisite example. It is intended to replicate one of the rare earlier versions.
Here’s the first fact to consider, it is NOT a Lincoln. It is a Continental and built as its own division separate from the Lincoln brand. The Continental Division of Ford Motor Company existed only two years, in 1956 and 1957. A Continental MK II is an image car and is sought by the most discerning connoisseur. Its classic elegance is timeless.
Ford’s intent was to introduce an ultra-exclusive personal luxury automobile; it was also to be the most exclusive and expensive automobile in the world. The outrageous price tag exceeding $10,000 limited sales to 3,012 vehicles. The price was rather avant-garde for the day – This fabulous automobile was so comprehensively equipped, the only option available in 1956 was air conditioning for a cost of $595.
Collins Trim and Auto of Marion, Indiana hand-crafted six Continental MK II conversions in the 1990s. The original convertible was built by Derham Coachworks of Rosemont, Pennsylvania in 1956 as a prototype. The custom Carson-style top has extra wide rear sail panels. The roof augments the classic silhouette of the Continental MK II. The car’s original “cow-belly” frame is well suited for this type of conversion because of its deep-seated, more upright construction with a lower silhouette. The cow-belly design required the use of a 3-joint driveshaft and a higher transmission tunnel inside the car. Had production commenced for this body style, the price would have exceeded $18,000 –
Hess & Eisenhardt is rumored to have built two or three convertibles but the actual number remains as mysterious as the car itself. They used Mercedes-Benz hydraulics for the top. The chassis was also reinforced by modifications. Harmonic resonance has to be countered with this type of alteration. This is negative energy in the form of vibration which can destroy an improper conversion.
No luxury automobile epitomized the 1950s more than the Continental MK II. The long hood, hardtop design, and iconic ersatz spare tire design became signature features for subsequent models in the distinguished Continental Mark Series. They were the pinnacle of personal luxury motoring in their day, and still are. These elite motorcars were built largely by hand to exacting standards.
It was built as a stand-alone division, and custom-crafted at the Continental Assembly Plant which was shared by no other Ford vehicle. The MK II was the closest thing to a hand-built custom-bodied car since the coachbuilt classics from the 1940s. The Continental MK II has the luxury length of 218.4”, and it rides upon a long 126” wheelbase. Tastefully styled, and impeccably hand-crafted, the Continental MK II was the epitome of luxury. If you drove this car in 1956-1957…..you were “there.”
Every step of its production was exclusive. The paintwork alone consisted of numerous coats of primer and paint that were air-dried, hand-rubbed, hand-sanded, then double lacquered and hand-rubbed to a mirror-like appearance. Only after an intolerant inspector’s OK, did the vehicle proceed to the next stage of its production. The Continental Assembly Plant had its own ¼ mile road test course.
After an exhaustive round of testing and inspection, the Continental MK II had a unique manner of shipment. The car was protected by a fleece lined cloth cover wrapped in a big plastic bag. When the cars reached the dealer destination…all that was required to deliver the car was to attach the hubcaps, bolt on the license plate and present the keys to the new owner…welcome to The Continental Life –
The Continental MK II was marketed in an extremely tasteful fashion…as a true automobile of eloquence should. It was introduced at the 1955 Paris Auto Show. Advertising ‘teasers’ went out as early as 1954 leaking minimal details purposely over the next year until its introduction. The Continental MK II debuted in major US cities by invitation only. The red carpet was rolled out for this all-new dimension in luxury motoring. Warner Brothers gifted one to actress Elizabeth Taylor in a custom color to match her eyes –
The Continental MK II is powered by the Lincoln 368 CID 16-valve V8 engine. This 6.0 litre engine produces 285 hp @ 4,600 rpm with 545 Nm of peak torque @ 3,000 rpm for the 1956 model year. For the 1957 MK II, the 6.0 litre V8 produces 300 hp @ 4,800 rpm with 563 Nm of peak torque @ 3,000 rpm. The Lincoln “Y” block V8 is equipped with a Holley 4-bbl downdraft carburetor and Borg Warner 3-speed Turbo-Drive automatic transmission. According to a 1956 report from “Popular Mechanics,” the Continental MK II got 16 mph @ 50 mph.
Longitudinal acceleration for the 1956 6.0 litre V8 is rated as 0-60 mph in 11 seconds, 0-100 mph in 33.6 seconds with a top speed of 120 mph ungoverned. It can do the ¼ mile @ 80 mph in 18 seconds.
Longitudinal acceleration for the 1957 6.0 litre V8 is rated as 0-60 mph in 10.1 seconds, 0-100 mph in 30.6 seconds with a top speed of 122 mph ungoverned. It does the ¼ mile @ 81 mph in 17.4 seconds.
The primary reason these magnificent automobiles aren’t worth more is because there are still so many in existence and in service. This fact is due in no small part to the car’s hand-built quality. The engine is blue-printed and hand-assembled. All of the car’s components were built meticulously out of the highest quality materials and mostly by hand and eye to near perfection. This luxuriously hand-crafted automobile was a ‘loss-leader’ in the market place losing $1,000 on each car built. There was an ongoing factory joke that Ford should put a $1,000 bill in each glove box of the Continental MK II at the end of the assembly line –
The Continental MK II has the luxury length of 218.4”, and it rides upon a long 126” wheelbase. Tastefully styled, and impeccably hand-crafted, the Continental MK II was the epitome of luxury.
The Continental MK II was one class act. It came equipped with power steering, power brakes, power windows, and a motorized radio with power antenna. The interior could be ordered in understated broadcloth in a cross-checkered nylon or luxurious “Bridge of Weir” leather imported from Scotland.
There was also another choice called “Metallasse” which was an opulent embroidered thread pattern. The Continental MK II was European inspired in its design, while other automakers were piling on the chrome and tail fins; it had a tasteful, elegant, understated appearance that gave it classic simplicity.
Special thanks to Daniel Schmitt & Co and MJC Classic Cars
The Continental Life includes some of the most luxurious Flagship models ever built. The exclusive Continental MK II was built by the Continental Division of Ford Motor Company in 1956 and 1957. These are the closest thing to custom-bodied Continentals since the 1940s. They are not only beautiful but powerful as well. A Continental MK II is highly sought among collectors world-wide. Its production was as exclusive as the vehicle itself. Being the only model built at the Continental Plant made quality control outstanding. The rare convertible conversions makes this mysterious automobile even more so. These magnificent open tourers augment The Continental Life –
The Continental Life…
1956 Continental MK II Coachbuilt Convertible
Classic American Marques, Editorials, Exotic Exotics, Extreme Luxury, Lincoln
Continental made three Mark II convertibles in 1957 as concept cars. One was destroyed. These three were designed and built as convertibles, not coupes with the top removed. The Continental design team also created some renderings of a Mark II 4-Door concept. With production cost very high, the Continental Division was closed after the 1957 production run. For 1958 the Continental nameplate was moved back to the Lincoln Division as the top trim level. Getting back to the Continental Mark II, for 1956 there were 2,419 production cars and for 1957 there were 572 production cars. Plus several preproduction and concept car were built. Since the Mark II came with most equipment options as standard, the only equipment option was air conditioning for $595. The Mark II was available in 19 standard exterior paint colors and five interior fabrics for 43 interior design themes. The cars had a sticker price of around $10,000. Ford Motor Company lost about $1,500 on each Mark II. To put the cost into 2020 dollars, it was a $98,000 car that Ford lost $15,000 on each one sold. I have several friends that have Mark IIs. I was a dummy when I passed on a great 1956 Mark II several years back.
These cars were truly way before their time and they couldn’t be appreciated fully. I think if they had been marketed differently the outcome could have been a lot more favorable. They should have had a time study involved which would have shown Ford they were not charging enough for this handbuilt automobile. But, at the time they were trying to create a luxury brand and a no hold barred mentality was set. They wanted to one-up on Cadillac. One of my uncles worked on the project and he guessed Ford wasn’t charging enough for the car. The production line workers joked about how Ford should have placed an envelope in the glove compartment with at least $1000 inside at the end of the assembly line. But money was no object at the time, they wanted to create a totally handbuilt luxury product. There’s a lot more to the story that would have turned this article into a book. I wish I had known you when this story was written back in 2015. Details were sketchy surrounding the MK II. This story was to inform the connoisseurs of the world about the coachbuilt convertible versions that are out there. Derham Coachworks of Rosemont, Pennsylvania worked with Ford for the convertible prototypes when the hardtop was in the works. The powers that be at Ford’s HQ knew the MK II hardtop and the Continental Division were a pipedreams. The accountants knew better, that’s why the Continental Division ended in 1957. And as you stated, the Continental’s upside-down figures weren’t going to be profitable in the long run to sustain an independent branding of this type. I had a beautiful Continental MK II with only 36,000 miles on it when I sold it. I do regret that sale but I was younger and didn’t realize what I had!
Very enlightening article about the Continental. I grew up in the 50s and always thought the car was fabulous. Bob Kearns. Pugh., Pa